On January 7, 2013, James Callis, Gary Phelps, and Avery Bell -- all residents of Ashland City, Tennessee -- and Arsenio Williams of Nashville were indicted by the Cheatham County grand jury for dog fighting and multiple counts of animal cruelty stemming from a dog-fighting operation discovered in Ashland City in November 2012, and called one of the largest in the history of Tennessee.
A trial date of February 4, 2014, was set for the four men, said Cheatham County Circuit Court clerk Julie Hibbs on July 16.
The Cheatham County grand jury indictments were:
* James Callis, 31, charged with one count of animal fighting, 60 counts of animal cruelty and one count of aggravated cruelty to animals.
* Gary Phelps, 50, charged with one count of animal fighting, 60 counts of animal cruelty, one count of aggravated cruelty to animals.
* Arsenio Williams, 29, charged with one count of animal fighting, 60 counts of animal cruelty and one count of aggravated cruelty to animals.
* Avery Bell, 54, was charged with one count of animal fighting, 60 counts of animal cruelty, one count of aggravated cruelty to animals, setting fire to personal property and burning without a permit. Bell is suspected of starting a fire near his home that got out of control, authorities said.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said Bell and Phelps are cousins and all four suspects are friends.
On Thanksgiving night in 2012, the Ashland City and Pleasant View fire departments responded to a brush fire at Bell’s residence on Buckeye Road. There they discovered over 60 dogs chained in the woods--mostly American Pit Bull Terriers, and some Beagles and hound mixes, all requiring medical attention, none of the dogs had access to food or fresh water, according to Cheatham County Animal Control said.
Cheatham County Animal Control, assisted by an international animal-protection group known as the Animal Rescue Corps, removed approximately 65 dogs in various stages of poor health and all showing physical scars and other signs of fighting.
A search warrant was executed shortly after the dogs were removed from the property and paraphernalia used to condition dogs for fighting was found on the property including a treadmill, fight-training pen, a spring pole, and a weighted sled. Cheatham County Animal Control identified the situation as a suspected dog-fighting operation.
“The dogs had sores on their bodies and signs of internal parasites,” said Michael Cunningham of the Animal Rescue Corps. He added that the dogs had "a lot of scarring, having their teeth removed [and] broken bones."
He also told WKM News, "[The dogs had] very thick, heavy chains around [their] necks. Their collars are wide collars and they're on so tight you can't even get your finger between the collar and the dog's neck."
One of the female dogs found, nicknamed Honor by ARC, was apparently used repeatedly for breeding and had her teeth filed down so that she would not harm the male dog during a forced mating. He said ARC volunteers fed Honor peanut butter because she couldn’t chew.
ARC President Scotlund Haisley said they also found nooses on the property as well as carcasses of dead animals.
“The fire which easily could have taken their lives actually ended up saving their lives,” Allison Pathfire of Animal Rescue Corps told WHAS-11. “The chains that they have around their necks are so thick that they drag on the ground, and by dragging on the ground they have cleared all the area away from where the dogs are. So the fire burned right up to the edge of right where the dogs are.”
Most of the dogs will need extensive rehabilitation before adoptions can begin, Haisley said. Workers said the animals seem friendly to humans but are aggressive toward each other.
James Callis, Gary Phelps, Avery Bell and Arsenio Williams, were booked into the Cheatham County Jail on $50,000 bond each.
Dog fighting is a felony offense in all 50 states and it is a felony offense under federal law as well.The Humane Society of the U.S. offers a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone involved in dog fighting or cockfighting. If you have information about illegal animal fighting in your area or anywhere, you can call HSUS’ animal fighting tip line at 877-TIP-HSUS and your information will be kept confidential.